There are plenty of packing cubes, pouches, and folders out there to get you organized in your packing, but these Specter Pack-it Compression Cubes from Eagle Creek take the concept a big step forward. Instead of just giving you something to stuff your clothes into, they actually help you carry more in the same space.
It’s not a radical concept: we’ve long had Space Bags and other compression systems (Eagle Creek makes their own version too) to reduce sweaters and bulky coats down. You know, those clear plastic things that are shot if they get a tiny hole in them. But those are better for a one-time move than regular use. These cubes, on the other hand, are easy to work with, super-lightweight, and not dependent on having an airtight seal.
Basically these are made like the regular Eagle Creek Specter super-light cubes, but with a key twist. You can use them normally, but then after you zip your things inside, you activate another zipper to compress the bag tighter. The fabric may be light but it’s super-strong, so the cube holds everything in well. Like a diet ad, the top photo is before it’s zipped up, the bottom photo is the after.
I was going to create a video to show this more clearly, but hey, Eagle Creek already did that:
These are stain and water-resistant, plus there’s a handle on top to pull them out and toss them in a hotel drawer. I’ve been taking one of these on trips for months now and while I often leave the other cubes behind, this one has become a regular on my list. I use mine a lot for dirty laundry because who wants that taking up a lot of room? You can cram a lot of socks, underwear, and t-shirts in here, then you zip it up and reduce the bulk in half.
These come in two sizes and are generally sold as a set for $38. You can get them in green, orange, or white with one of those as an accent. Get the zip-up Specter Compression Cubes direct from Eagle Creek or check online at Backcountry, Moosejaw, or Zappos.
See more of our Eagle Creek travel gear reviews.
We review a whole lot of travel gear on this blog every week, some of it good, some of it so great we can’t stop talking about it. Out of the 250+ travel and outdoor adventure items we used and abused this year, here’s what the four of us liked the best. And for those keeping score from what’s below, yes Eagle Creek and ExOfficio are always safe bets when you walk out the door to some place on the other side of the globe…
Jill Robinson’s Favorite Gear of the Year
This year had me all over the map, from adventures in Africa to diving in Fiji. Often, I only had a couple of days between trips to unpack and repack again, so my favorite travel gear items are ones that helped me most along the way. The one item that was nearly always in my bag (except for those hot, tropical locations) was the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Jacket. It’s so compressible that I’ve crammed it into small pockets in my carry-on luggage on a handful of trips. Once unpacked, it keeps me warm in the coldest climates.
The bag I used most this year, aside from my tried-and-true Gregory Cache 22 (a favorite from 2012), was the Eagle Creek Gear Warrior. The duffel on wheels has handy grab loops, stashes tons of gear, and is far sturdier than any duffel I’ve tried to date.
The two brands I turned to again and again, were Icebreaker and ExOfficio. Icebreaker’s quality merino wool clothing, from skirts to neck gaiters, keeps me warm (or cool, as the case may be) and allows for numerous wear days before washing. If that’s not your dream as a traveler, you haven’t been traveling long enough. ExOfficio clothing kept bugs away from me and also allowed me to look like the most dressed-up person in the room while out on safari in Namibia.
My best bargain items are the GoTubb Containers, which snap open and shut with ease, but not by themselves, so you can rely on them staying shut when you travel. Plus, when it’s time to open them, you can even do so with one hand. Sometimes, those simple things are like magic when you’re traveling.
Ramsey Qubein’s Travel Gear Favorites
My travel schedule in 2013 was as hectic as ever, but I loved every minute of it. For me, comfort and flexibility are paramount, which is why my 20Jeans went with me on half my trips. They are comfortable, soft, and (since my pair is a khaki color) ideal for business casual meetings as well as travel days.
Rolling through the airport with my Briggs & Riley Torq Spinner was a cinch thanks to the four wheels (my new must-have for travel luggage). I loved the fact that the bag looks so different from other peoples’ carry-on meaning no one will mistakenly pick it up as their own.
But, what good is having an easy-to-roll bag if your feet hurt from walking so much? My favorite travel shoe of the year is my pair of Clark’s Clutch Engine shoes for their comfort and versatility. I could be on a weeklong trip, and only carry one pair of shoes.
For the rare day when I was at home, the DefenderPad laptop shield was a great way for me to catch up on work with my laptop while lounging on the sofa or in bed. It kept my legs from getting too warm and also doubles as a great tray for eating on the sofa!
Amy Whitley’s Family Travel Outdoor Gear Picks
For me, 2013 was the year of wilderness travel for me and my gang, and my top travel gear reflects this. It’s hard to pick just one favorite, but topping my list has to be my Osprey Verve 5 L, reviewed in this hydration pack round-up post. Not only did the Verve get me through ski season well hydrated, but it continued to work hard throughout summer mountain hikes and desert road trips. I even got gross chair lift oil on my Verve, and it came out good as new.
What else did I reach for again and again? My pair of Tilley Endurables Venture Trek Pants. I wore these pants almost continually during a five-day river rafting trip, and then brought them along to backpack in the Trinity Alps. What makes them great: they’re lightweight, stain-resistant, quick-drying, and convertible.
Lastly, I wouldn’t be where I am today (literally) without my Eagle Creek Flipswitch carry-on. The Flipswitch has logged almost as many air miles as I have (or rather, as my son has, because he’s successfully stolen it from me). It’s endured the inconvenience of TSA checks, the stress ofoverhead storage bin wars, and the abuse of a teen boy.
Tim Leffel’s Digital Nomad Gear Picks
This past year I traveled to Europe and up and down the Americas, moving my family to the highlands of central Mexico in the latter half.
There was a lot of hiking, biking, and sidewalk surfing in there, so as usual I was wearing a lot of different travel pants. At least two of these four have gone in my bag on every trip this year: Craghoppers Kiwi Stretch Pants, ExOfficio Kukura Trek’r stretchy pants, the lighter revamped nylon P^Cubed Adventure Pants, and the super light Mountain Khakis Equatorial Pants.
In a sea of similar luggage, the Eagle Creek Morphus bag pictured above stood out for its transformer properties. It’s a backpack, a carry-on, a rolling checked suitcase, or two separate bags. Very cool. Maybe not as cool, but just super-useful for traveling with a laptop and gadgets is this Deuter Giga Laptop backpack.
Light packers who avoid baggage fees often carry a secret: little packets and pouches that expand on the other end to be bags and daypacks. I’ve used the Sea to Summit waterproof one a lot and it holds an amazing amount of stuff.
A few years back my year-end picks included the original ExOfficio Storm Logic jacket that turned into a travel pillow. The new Storm Logic has added a slew of pockets for all the things a traveler is carrying and it’s even better. (The Deluvian Rain Jacket that Jill reviewed and I will later also has the pocket system.)
I hardly went or lived anywhere cloudy, so I tried out a lot of sunglasses this year. These Costa del Mar Tuna Alley ones I’m wearing above are the shades I keep reaching for without thinking. They’re pretty darn close to perfect.
My favorite inexpensive gadget item was the GSI Coffee Press mug. I’ve probably used this 50 times already.
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Frequent travelers know that “smaller and more compact” is important for those with carry-on bags. When listening to music on the road, it is either via headphones or on the average-quality speakers that come on a laptop. Luckily, Divoom has created a travel-size speaker that is surprisingly powerful despite its teensy size.
It has a built-in microphone that also makes it great for using with Skype phone calls or teleconferences. It connects wirelessly with your laptop, stereo, iPod, iPhone, television, or even musical instruments via Bluetooth streaming connection. There is also a rechargeable battery inside to make it easier to keep it powered up.
What I like most about it is that it fits easily into the outer pocket of my laptop bag and can even slip into my back pants pocket if I am in a hurry. It provides enough sound to enjoy your music or conversation at a comfortable decibel without sending the sound waves across the room the way a boom box on the beach might (cue the 1980s imagery here).
With a clip on hook, it can dangle from a briefcase or backpack or simply hang on your belt loop. That’s exactly how I used it when making a Skype phone call for a meeting, which had me pacing back and forth. I was a bit worried about it when it got wet in the rain while dangling from my bag, however.
It may not be designed to get wet, but there was no disruption in the quality of the sound or its connectivity. The low price point makes it a great gift, which combines the benefits of lightweight portability with powerful sound.
Whether you’re playing Santa for an outdoor enthusiast in your life, or just want to fill a stocking full of camping gear for yourself, the following nifty products make for great additions to your holiday shopping list.
Coghlan’s LED tent pegs: We love Coghlans! And I’ve tripped over my tent’s guy lines more times than I care to admit. Coghlan’s 10” heavy duty tent pegs now feature a single LED light for visibility at night. Just twist on, and you’ve got a nice glow around your tent. Just $3.99 for a pack of two at Amazon.
Light My Fire Swedish Fire Knife: I don’t know about you, but I definitely want something called a fire knife in my stocking. Light My Fire’s unique fire-starting knife really is all that: this camp knife comes with a plastic sheath and a high-friction rubber handle, and it creates its own spark via a FireSteel Scout, which twists into the knife’s handle when not in use. Get it on Amazon in one of five fun colors for $28. I also love Light My Fire’s meal kits, perfect for young backpackers.
Arka LED rechargeable lantern: This camp lantern by Industrial Revolution is compact, lightweight, and collapsible, perfect for camping and overnights in outdoor shelters like yurts and fire towers, where electricity may be scarce or nonexistent. Recharge the lantern via USB cable to your smart phone. Can be used as a flashlight or strobe light, too! Pick it up for $69 on Amazon. (See Tim’s review from earlier in the year here: Uco Arka lantern.)
Dublin Dog KOA collars: For the outdoor-loving dogs in your life, how about outfitting them with waterproof collars that don’t stink? Not even after months and months? Our two dogs have been sporting designs from Dublin Dog’s Trout line since summer, and I am sold! They won’t ever wear another type of collar. The KOA material repels dirt and grime, and the collars really do stay fresh-smelling. Pick one up at Amazon for under $30, depending on size.
Icebug ArchFlex Insoles: Talk about the gift that keeps on giving! I’ve been running and hiking with Arch Flex insoles since July, and while I’ve tried many insoles over the years, these are the ones I reach for. They’re slim, easy to get in and out of my shoe, and provide the right shock relief for my repetitive running and hiking movements. Pick high arch or low, plus shoe size. Find them on Amazon.
GRAYL Water Filtration Cup: If you have someone headed to a part of the world lacking potable drinking water, the new Grayl makes for a nice gift. Like other water purification bottles, the Grayl has its drawbacks, but is overall a solid choice for travelers who need access to filtered water all day, every day. The cup, which looks and feels more like a bottle, features a duel cylinder construction wherein the user filters water through the bottom of the inner cylinder via a carbon filter. Once you’ve given it a few practice runs, it’s easy to use, though be advised: until it’s well ‘worn in’, the cylinders can be hard to pull apart, due the the vacuum seal. (As I said, not without its drawbacks.) However, the Grayl is sleek and shiny, heavy but definitely portable, and features a nice open-close design. If using abroad, you’ll need to upgrade the filter to the ‘purifier’, but once you’ve done so, you’re good to go for 300 uses. Buy the Grayl on REI for $69.
Cocoon Ultralight Microfiber terry towel: I love Cocoon travel products! I have used their travel pillow and packing cube, but by far my favorite product is their microfiber towel. Perfect for backpackers, campers, and round-the-world travelers, the Cocoon is small, thin, and light, but still actually does the job intended…you know, actually dry your body. Set it outside to dry afterward, and it will be good to go again in no time. Pick it up for your travel or backpacking friend for under $35 on Amazon.
Liberty Bottle Works Topo bottle: I would say I use this 100% recycled aluminum USA-made bottle every day, but I can’t: the minute I got it, my teen son took it. I think he loves the topographical map design best (ours features Mt. Rainier) but it may be the straw or the easy to open and close flip top lid with carrying handle. Pick out the map your hiking loved one can relate to most for as low as $12 on Amazon. It’s also available at Backcountry.com.
The weather where you are might not be making you think about sandals, but if you’ll be taking a vacation to a hot place or you want a truly original gift idea, check out this Keen custom shoes offering.
The original Keen Newport sandals were a revolution that launched a company and they’re still super-popular for several reasons. They’ve comfortable, functional, cool, and protective of your toes. Plus they’re terrific for water activities like kayaking and river rafting. Now they can come in whatever color combination you want as well.
Keen gave me a code to try this process out and it was a pure delight. Well, for my teenage daughter anyway. I knew she’d go crazier with the choices than I would, so I let her loose on the Keen Custom page so she could make her own unique pair.
After picking her size, she chose from 20 strap colors. Then from 13 stitching colors. Then from 14 microfiber colors for the tongue and sides. After that the lining, from four choices. She chose the woven tab colors (from 7 options) for the two pull tabs, then picked from 10 bungee lace colors and 5 colors for the plastic pull tab at the end. Last was the outsole and midsole, which produced the only bit of whining: sorry kids, gray or black there.
It gets topped off with a yellow and black Keen logo no matter what, but it would take a math club contestant a few minutes to figure out how many combinations you can get from all that. It’s a lot of choices. She went back and forth a few times trying different options, which is easy to do on the intuitive website. Each time you change something, you see the result on the screen and you don’t have to ever hit a back button and start over.
At the top of the screen is how hers came out. Here’s another pair I mocked up with random choices. Obviously a much different look.
This process takes 2-3 weeks, so order today if you want them by Christmas. (To avoid that stress, print the custom page and buy a gift card for $130 instead.) The process was very smooth though, with Keen keeping us updated: a verification e-mail that pictured the shoes as we’d ordered them, another e-mail later that it was in process at the factory, then one when the shoes were on their way.
Sure, these cost more than a pair of regular Newports you buy off the shelf, but how much is it worth to have bespoke travel shoes like nobody else’s? For now anyway these don’t come in kids sizes, but the women’s sizes start at 5 and the men’s at 7. See more at the Keen custom shoes page.